OUR WORK LIFE: Three Generations of Bay Area Work and Workers


Artist Oscar Melara: “I wanted to make the Our Work Life mural for many reasons. As a bus operator I see people coming and going to work and see the pride and frustration, energy and fatigue, solidarity and fear, with which they respond to their working day. There is a noticeable lack of support in our culture for their work endeavors. I am one of them. I don’t see myself reflected in the media—I want and need positive reinforcement for my contribution. Creating a project that dignifies our working life helps me appreciate the reason for my efforts and gives meaning to my own work life.”

Our Work Life is the result of a collaboration between artists Kate Connell and Oscar Melara (Book + Wheel) and the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University. The first phase of the project was a sixty-foot-long mural, eleven inches high, mounted to wrap around the inside of SamTrans public commuter buses. Mural panels told the story of Bay Area labor history with drawn and painted images and multilingual quotes. The goal of Our Work Life was to build a sense of community between the regular commuters. The mural was accompanied by a free color handout modeled on a bus transfer, it invited viewers to further explore local labor history. The project was mounted on seven SamTrans commuter buses, which traveled long distances, from Palo Alto into San Francisco many times a day, carrying hundreds of commuters. Copies of the panels were donated to libraries and unions. Our Work Life has been shown in galleries and libraries and is permanently installed at the Evans Campus of City College of San Francisco.

Our Work Life was launched on SamTrans with a Labor Day event at the ILWU Hall where attendees met the workers whose stories are included in the mural, enjoyed labor themed music and met local labor leaders.

Our Work Life is a labor of love and many contributed to it. The Labor Archives and Research Center‘s outstanding collection on Bay Area labor history is the basis for the project. Images by photographers by David Bacon and Joseph Blum appear in the panels which also  include artwork by Giacomo Patri and Pele de Lappe and calligraphy by Huang Shao Wu. Extensive interviews, portions of which are included in the panels, were conducted by Lisa Velarde, Ivy McClellan, Tara Carney and Nhien Truong. Faculty and students in the Visual Media Design Department at City College of San Francisco provided typography and graphics support. Final layout was done by Gino Squadrito at LaserCom.